Midwest rivals ready to rumble


Illinois State University is invading DeKalb and Chick Evans Field House tonight to avenge a loss handed to them by the Huskies in Normal last year.

The traditionally dominant team in the state doesn’t like losing to the underdog on their home floor. Especially when that underdog hasn’t beaten you in 19 years.

But now, the tables are turned. It’s ISU that’s the underdog and they have to steal a win from a tough NIU squad that doesn’t give up many losses at home.

Naturally, a rivalry was born.

There really wasn’t much of one between these two schools until the last few years, as evidenced by ISU’s 25-11 head-to-head record against the Huskies.

But now that both schools are among the two best volleyball programs in the Midwest, a rivalry was unavoidable.

NIU broke into the spotlight this season with a sixth place ranking in the Mideast region. And they’ve since stayed there.

The Redbirds, however, have worked their way up to seventh from ninth in the Mideast rankings and are hungry to move past the Huskies.

The question is, do the ‘Birds have a chance? Well, they’re not in the Mid-Continent Conference, so theoretically it’s possible.

ISU owns an 18-6 record and is 12-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference. They finished at 30-4 overall last season; 14-2 in conference.

They boast not only the top hitter in the MVC in Kim Nelson (4.76 kills per game) but as of last week, she was ranked 18th nationally.

ISU also has a strong blocking game with MVC leader, Keely Zimmerman, with 1.38 per game and Michell Rucker at 1.19.

In the back court, ISU already has five players with 200+ dig seasons. The effort is led by Carla McQueen (294) and Juli Schmidt (297) who should both top the 300-dig plateau in this match.

Schmidt also sets up the Redbird attack garnering 969 assists so far on the season.

ISU is coached by Julie Morgan who owns a 151-63 record in her seventh season with the ‘Birds. She, coincidentally, was the head coach when current Huskie Head Coach Pete Waite was an assistant there in 1987.

“I don’t think there was a rivalry between the two schools until I came here,” Waite said. “A lot of the players (on both teams) played in high school together so they’re pretty excited about it.”

With the Huskies rested after warming up on their Mid-Con punching bags last weekend and his team riding a mild six-match winning streak, Waite says his team is ready to go.

Kori practiced yesterday and Waite says that her injured shoulder is fine.

Another consideration in this match is the home-court advantage at stake if these two teams were to meet in the NCAA tournament in December.

It would definitely be a great help for the Huskies not worry about traveling to Redbird Arena and having their 4,008 (if not more) screaming fans have a say in the match.

If the Huskies were to win, the victory would tie Waite with Debbie Brue as the all-time winningest coach in NIU women’s volleyball history.

That’s quite an achievement since his 138-55 came in only five and a half seasons while Brue compiled a 139-131-5 slate over seven seasons.

But this game is about more than records, it’s about state bragging rights. The winner of this match gets to stand tall while the loser has to wait for the next meeting.

But that’s what rivalries are all about.